|PARENT CHILD RELATIONS - Online
School of Family and Consumer Sciences at The University of Akron
Professor Susan D. Witt, Ph.D.
PIAGET’S THEORY OF COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT
Jean Piaget was born in
One of the things Piaget observed with his work was that as children grew older they become brighter (quantitative) and their answers were qualitatively different ‑ older children knew more and were also capable of mental manipulations not available to younger kids. He used this in his research ‑ the changing thought patterns in children ‑ he first studied his own children, then thousands of others.
Piaget saw cognitive development as the result of two basic biological characteristics that remain constant throughout development ‑ organization and adaptation. Organization is the building of simpler processes such as seeing, touching, naming things into higher mental structures. Adaptation is the adjustment that happens in the individual as a result of interaction with environment.
First of Piaget's stages is sensorimotor ‑ age birth to two years.
1) Sensorimotor ‑ this lasts from birth to about age 2. During this time the child uses her senses to discover the world. Think about how an infant learns about the world around her. She reacts to the touch, voice, smell, and taste of her mother. Very young infants are able to distinguish their mother from another based upon these senses.
During the sensorimotor stage, the child develops object permanence ‑ the realization that people and objects don't disappear just because the child can't see them. The child has limitations during this time because of the lack of language. Piaget organized the sensorimotor stage into six substages. These are explained below.
2) Pre‑operational ‑ This lasts from two years to about seven years. During this stage the child learns to use symbols (taking a box and pretending it’s a house or fort or cave, for example, or making a gun out of tinkertoys). Children are very egocentric during this stage - only seeing the world from their own viewpoint and thinking of themselves as the center of the universe (the child who is talking to dad on the phone and when dad asks the child a question, nods his head into the phone is exhibiting egocentrism; or the child who covers up her eyes and knows that because she can’t see you, you can’t see her). During this stage children are also animistic - attributing life to inanimate objects (“the table hurt me” when the child bumps into the table, for example; or thinking of their stuffed animals as real). Children also have problems with the concepts of classification, seriation and conservation. For example if you give a preoperational child a container with different shapes and colors and ask the child to put the green circles in a container, or the red squares in a container, they will frequently have trouble with this. The child tends to focus on one dimension of the object, either color or shape, and may very well put the green circles in a container, but may also put red circles in or green triangles. Seriation refers to putting things in size order, and again, preoperational children tend to have trouble with this. When children are given ten sticks of different sizes and asked to put them in order from shortest to longest, they frequently have difficulty with all ten. This is an experiment Piaget did with children, and later researchers have found that it might not be the concept of seriation itself that children have a problem with, but the number of objects being placed in size order. If children are given four or five sticks, they are better able to do the task correctly. Some conservation experiments Piaget found children had difficulty with include conservation of matter, volume and number. For example, if you put five coins in a row with five coins directly below them, the child will tell you that there are the same number in each row. But if you take one row and space the five coins out, the child will say that there are more in the spaced out row.
These experiments show that the child’s thinking is much more sophisticated than in the sensorimotor stage, but the child still has difficulty centering on more than one aspect of a problem at a time.
In the early part of the preoperational stage, it is not uncommon for children to have temper tantrums. We need to keep in mind that tantrums tend to occur when children are tired, hungry, restless or bored. Children also don’t have the language ability at two years of age to always explain how they’re feeling. Parents and caregivers need to understand why children have tantrums and take steps to avoid the conditions that seem to provide tantrums.
3) Concrete operations - This lasts from about age 7 to about age 12. During this stage the child becomes less egocentric and starts to think in more concrete ways. Children this age are very literal and tend to think in very right or wrong, good or bad kind of terms. They don’t think abstractly, and tend to be very concrete in their thinking. For example, the concrete operational child may be helping take dishes to the dishwasher and drop a cup. He may very well think he’s done something bad rather than understanding that it’s an accident, and in fact he’s doing something good by helping with the dishes. Children this age think very literally.
4) Formal operations - This stage occurs during adolescence. The child in this stage can understand things on a more adult level and can communicate with a wide range of people on many topics. During early adolescence, children can be somewhat judgmental and still think somewhat concretely, but as they move through formal operations, they are better able to understand others’ viewpoints and ways of doing things. They are able to think abstractly and understand that issues can have many sides. They also understand that different situations can have an influence on how we think about something. According to Piaget formal operations is the stage that we move into during adolescence and are then in throughout adulthood.
1. Children have distinct ways of determining reality and viewing world.
2. Kids mental development progresses through definite stages that occur in fixed sequence for all children.
3. Cognitive development is influenced by several factors interacting together ‑ maturation and experimentation with objects and with people.
4. Cognitive development is a result of two inborn attributes ‑ organization and adaptation. Organization ‑ building simple process into higher forms of thinking and Adaptation ‑ continuing change occurring in individuals as a result of interaction with environment.
Strengths of Piaget's theory
1. Shows children actively interacting with the environment.
2. The descriptions of the way children think is helpful for parents and people who work with children.
3. Sparked much additional research into the cognitive development of children.
1. Experiments not controlled.
2. Piaget often strayed from his questions ‑ let children's actions determine what questions he asked next.
3. He initially used his own children for many experiments.
Return to the Course Syllabus